Farm Management

Smithfield’s first summer crop at newest feedlot a winner

Smithfield Cattle Co Sapphire Feedlot, Goondiwindi, manager Andrew Slack

Smithfield Cattle Co’s first summer crop at recently acquired Sapphire Feedlot, near Goondiwindi, has been a success despite difficult conditions.

Sapphire, purchased in January 2016, planted sorghum in the 2016-17 summer after successful first harvests of winter crops barley, wheat and chickpeas.

Manager Andrew Slack, who moved from the company’s Smithfield Feedlot at Proston, said it was also his first time growing sorghum and the relentless February 2017 heat did not help the experiment.

“We planted on December 30 2016 and in February 2017 we had three days in a row of 47-degree heat. That was hard on the crop, but we kept irrigation up to it, so it had about 480mm total including rainfall. I was very happy with how the plant coped with the heat event,” Mr Slack said.

The 225 hectares of MR-Taurus were all harvested by June 4 2017, returning an average yield of 7.5t/ha.

“It was a really nice, heavy sample and screenings were low.”

Mr Slack said adding sorghum was beneficial for rotational and cash flow purposes.

“Due to late harvest of chickpeas coming off the paddock we didn’t really have enough time for the correct ground prep to plant cotton. So, we changed crops and went with sorghum instead.

“Taurus is high yielding under an array of conditions and a good robust variety which grows well in this area.”

Barley and wheat are grown and purchased to feed the 6000 cattle, while chickpeas, sorghum and cotton are grown to boost the bottom line.

The 1712ha property consists of 800ha for dryland cultivation, 415ha for irrigated forage and grain production, 200ha for grazing, with the balance land home to the feedlot which is licensed to 8700 cattle units and is currently built to a capacity of 6000 head.

Sapphire complements the company’s 3500ha Smithfield Feedlot, properties Mondure Park, Teignmouth, Blacklands, and other leased properties.

Two years on from winning the ALFA Young Lot Feeder Achiever Award for his research on feedlot dog olfaction, Mr Slack, 27, is building a strong career in the Australian cattle feedlot industry.

He manages staff, all input commodities and feedstuffs, and daily feedlot operations, as well as working closely with the agronomist, vet and nutritionist.

Contractors are used for planting, spraying and harvesting.

Mr Slack said deciding which grain crops to grow and which grains to purchase at Sapphire depended on commodity prices, animal nutrition and crop rotations.

“We have to consider the price, the relative energy and our nutritionist formulates rations based on what the customer wants or the end market requires.

“Cattle at Sapphire are a mixture of Smithfield-owned cattle as well as custom-fed cattle for our producer and processor clients.

“Our normal occupancy is 100 days for a bullock, which are fed barley.

“We also feed Wagyu for 300-350 days. The Wagyu get a higher fibre ration of wheat and barley because we want them to put weight on a lot slower to produce the marbling characteristics in the beef.”

Combined, the feedlots use over 100,000t of grain and feed commodities a year.

The biggest grain at Sapphire is barley, of which about 20,000t is consumed a year.

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